No Goose-Gander Problem in Legal Malpractice

ALBANY:   Loss of freedom for a tort plaintiff occasioned by the extension of his probation arising from a criminal arrest and the resulting emotional and psychological harm are compensible.  Same thing for a legal malpractice plaintiff?  Not compensible.  Dombrowski v Bulson
[19 NY3d 347]   May 31, 2012  Lippman, Ch. J.  Court of Appeals.
 

Landon v Kroll Lab. Specialists, Inc 2013 NY Slip Op 06597 [22 NY3d 1]  October 10, 2013
Lippman, J.  Court of Appeals  tells us that in a "regular" tort situation, even in a "contract" situation, there may be liability. "Although the existence of a contractual relationship by itself generally is not a source of tort liability to third parties, we have recognized that there are certain circumstances where a duty of care is assumed to certain individuals outside the contract (see Espinal v Melville [*4]Snow Contrs., 98 NY2d 136, 138-139 [2002]). As relevant here, such a duty may arise "where the contracting party, in failing to exercise reasonable care in the performance of [its] duties, launched[s] a force or instrument of harm" (Espinal, 98 NY2d at 140 [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]). This principle recognizes that the duty to avoid harm to others is distinct from the contractual duty of performance. Accepting the allegations of the complaint as true, Kroll did not exercise reasonable care in the testing of plaintiff's biological sample when it failed to adhere to professionally accepted testing standards and, consequently, released a report finding that plaintiff had tested positive for THC. The alleged harm to plaintiff was not remote or attenuated. Indeed, it was his own biological specimen that was the sole subject of this testing and he was directly harmed by the positive test result causing the extension of his probation and the necessity of having to defend himself in the attendant court proceedings."

In a legal malpractice situation, the rules are different. " In addition, we reject defendant's argument that plaintiff failed to allege that he has suffered a cognizable harm (see e.g. Martinez v Long Is. Jewish Hillside Med. Ctr., 70 NY2d 697, 699 [1987] ["where there is a breach of a duty owed by defendant to plaintiff, the breach of that duty resulting directly in emotional harm is actionable"]). In this procedural posture, {**22 NY3d at 8}plaintiff's allegations of the loss of freedom occasioned by the extension of his probation and the resulting emotional and psychological harm are sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Defendant places too much weight upon our recent decision in Dombrowski v Bulson (19 NY3d 347 [2012]), characterizing it as holding that loss of freedom damages are not recoverable in negligence actions. In that case, we found that a legal malpractice action did not lie against a criminal defense attorney to recover nonpecuniary damages. The decision was based in part on policy considerations, including the potentially devastating consequences such liability would have on the criminal justice system and, in particular, the possible deterrent effect it would have on the defense bar concerning the representation of indigent defendants (see Dombrowski, 19 NY3d at 352). Similar policy considerations do not weigh in defendant's favor here."

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